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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Overview of Immigration Issues in the 112th Congress


Ruth Ellen Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy

There is a broad-based consensus that the U.S. immigration system is broken. This consensus erodes, however, as soon as the options to reform the U.S. immigration system are debated. Substantial efforts to comprehensively reform immigration law failed in the 109th and 110th Congresses. Whether the 112th Congress will address immigration reform in the midst of historically high levels of unemployment and budgetary constrictions is difficult to project.

The number of foreign-born people residing in the United States is at the highest level in U.S. history and has reached a proportion of the U.S. population—12.5%—not seen since the early 20
th century. Of the 38 million foreign-born residents in the United States, approximately 16.4 million are naturalized citizens. The remaining 21.6 million foreign-born residents are noncitizens. According to the latest estimates by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), about 10.8 million unauthorized aliens were living in the United States in January 2010, down from a peak of 11.8 million in January 2007. Some observers and policy experts maintain that the presence of millions of unauthorized residents is evidence of inadequacies in the legal immigration system as well as failures of immigration control policies and practices.

This report synthesizes immigration issues as a multi-tiered debate. It breaks down the U.S. immigration law and policy into key elements: border control and visa security; legal immigration; documentation and verification; interior immigration enforcement; integration, status, and benefits; and refugees and other humanitarian populations. It delineates the debate in the 112
th Congress for a range of issues, including border security, criminal aliens, worksite enforcement, employment eligibility verification, permanent admissions, temporary workers, legalization, noncitizen eligibility for federal benefits, birthright citizenship, and the role of state and local law enforcement in enforcing immigration laws.

Current circumstances may sharpen the social and business cleavages as well as narrow the range of options. Nonetheless, selected immigration issues are likely to be a major concern for the 112
th Congress, even if legislative action on such contentious issues appears daunting.

Date of Report: March 21, 2011
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R41704
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

U.S. Immigration Policy on Temporary Admissions


Ruth Ellen Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy

U.S. law provides for the temporary admission of various categories of foreign nationals, who are known as nonimmigrants. Nonimmigrants are admitted for a designated period of time and a specific purpose. They include a wide range of visitors, including tourists, foreign students, diplomats, and temporary workers. There are 24 major nonimmigrant visa categories. These visa categories are commonly referred to by the letter and numeral that denotes their subsection in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA); for example, B-2 tourists, E-2 treaty investors, F-1 foreign students, H-1B temporary professional workers, J-1 cultural exchange participants, or S-4 terrorist informants.

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) consular officer, at the time of application for a visa, as well as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspectors, at the time of application for admission, must be satisfied that the alien is entitled to nonimmigrant status. The burden of proof is on the applicant to establish eligibility for nonimmigrant status and the type of nonimmigrant visa for which the application is made. Both DOS consular officers (when the alien is petitioning abroad) and DHS inspectors (when the alien is entering the United States) must confirm that the alien is not ineligible for a visa under the so-called “grounds for inadmissibility” of the INA, which include criminal, terrorist, and public health grounds for exclusion.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspectors in DHS tallied 163 million temporary admissions of foreign nationals to the United States during 2009.Mexican nationals with border crossing cards and Canadian nationals traveling for business or tourist purposes accounted for the vast majority of admissions to the United States, with approximately 126.8 million entries in FY2009. The remaining categories and countries of the world contributed 36.2 million admissions in FY2009. Since many types of visas allow people to depart and re-enter the United States, the CBP data record multiple admissions during the same year.

In FY2009, DOS’s consular officers issued 5.8 million nonimmigrant visas. Nonimmigrant visas issued abroad had dipped to 5.0 million in FY2004 after peaking at 7.6 million in FY2001. Combined, visitor visas issued for tourism and business comprised the largest group of nonimmigrant visas in FY2009, with about 4.1 million, down from 5.7 million in FY2000. Other notable groups were 0.7 million students and exchange visitors (12.3%) and 0.5 million temporary workers, managers, executives, and investors (8.7%).

According to the most recent analysis, there were 1.8 million nonimmigrants who maintained a residence in the United States in 2008. Of the 1.8 million nonimmigrants, 50.8% (0.93 million) were temporary workers and their families, 32.2% (0.59 million) were students and their families, 13.1% (0.24 million) were exchange visitors and families, and 3.8% (0.07 million) were diplomats, other representatives, and their families. Although most nonimmigrants must demonstrate that they are not coming to reside permanently in the United States, many ultimately adjust their status to become legal permanent residents.

The law and regulations set terms for nonimmigrant lengths of stay in the United States, typically have foreign residency requirements, and often limit what aliens are permitted to do in the United States (e.g., gain employment or enroll in school), but many observers assert that the policies are not uniformly or rigorously enforced. Achieving an optimal balance among major policy priorities, such as ensuring national security, facilitating trade and commerce, protecting public health and safety, and fostering international cooperation, remains a challenge.



Date of Report: February 28, 2011
Number of Pages: 45
Order Number: RL31381
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Immigration-Related Worksite Enforcement: Performance Measures


Andorra Bruno
Specialist in Immigration Policy

In the spring of 2009, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued new guidance on immigration-related worksite enforcement. Under the guidelines, DHS “will use all available civil and administrative tools, including civil fines and debarment, to penalize and deter illegal employment.” According to 2010 estimates, there are some 8.0 million unauthorized workers in the U.S. civilian labor force.

DHS’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for immigration-related worksite enforcement, or enforcement of the prohibitions on unauthorized employment in Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The INA §274A provisions, sometimes referred to as employer sanctions, make it unlawful for an employer to knowingly hire, recruit or refer for a fee, or continue to employ an alien who is not authorized to be so employed. Today, ICE’s worksite enforcement program is focused primarily on cases that involve critical infrastructure facilities and cases involving employers who commit “egregious violations” of criminal statutes and engage in worker exploitation.

Employers who violate INA prohibitions on the unlawful employment of aliens may be subject to civil monetary penalties and/or criminal penalties. Criminal investigations may result in defendants being charged with crimes beyond unlawful employment and being subject to the relevant penalties for those violations.

Various measures are available to examine the performance of ICE’s worksite enforcement program. They include Final Orders for civil monetary penalties, administrative fines, administrative arrests, criminal arrests, criminal indictments and convictions, and criminal fines and forfeitures. In addition to examining annual changes and trends in the various performance measure data, these data can be considered in relation to the estimated size of the unauthorized workforce or the potential number of employers employing these workers. When considered in this context, ICE’s worksite enforcement program can seem quite limited.

Enforcement activity by the Department of Labor (DOL) is also relevant to a discussion of federal efforts to curtail unauthorized employment. DOL, which is responsible for enforcing minimum wage, overtime pay, and related requirements, focuses a significant percentage of its enforcement resources on a group of low-wage industries that employ large numbers of immigrant—and presumably large numbers of unauthorized—workers.



Date of Report: March 1, 2011
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: R40002
Price: $29.95

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